Goodbye Colombia, See You Soon

The brains behind Colombia's tourism motto got it right: "The only risk is never leaving". Last week, after a year calling  Bogotá home, I left Colombia. Risky move.

After about a week back in the States, the re-entry culture shock is in full force. I haven't had an exotic fruit juice in days, can't retrain myself to flush toilet paper, and am lost without the sounds of drunken soccer fans "Uuuyyshh!"-ing in every corner tienda.

You might know Colombia as the country with an endless armed conflict and the origin of your morning cup of Jo and perhaps your other favorite pick-me-up. 

Anón: Looks like a dragon turd, tastes like heaven.

But Colombia is way more than cocaine and coffee. I know you know that. But last year when I told friends and family I was moving to Colombia to work on a farm, you bet those were the first words out of their mouths. Sadly, I get it.

Not many people know Colombia for its endless supply of exotic fruits, or as home to the world's 2nd highest mammal population, or as the rainiest country on Earth.

Or that the FARC Rebels, who've been at war with the State for 49 years, have dwindled to a mere 7000 guerrillas and ongoing peace talks in Havana are deeper and more substantial than ever before. Like most things in Colombia, an agreement will take a while, but it will happen.

Things are looking up for Colombia. Us soccer romantics always love to talk about how soccer can explain a country. In Colombia, it really does.

Back in the World Cup for the first time since 1998, Los Cafeteros epitomize the new Colombian hope.

Sixteen years ago, Colombia teetered on being a failed state. The government ramped up efforts against guerrillas and the closely-tied drug cartels (which used domestic football clubs as key money laundering vehicles). The dirty workings of Pablo Escobar's Nacional, the Cali Cartel's América de Cali, and José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha's Millonarios were stomped out and purified. During that time (about 1996-2010), Colombian soccer struggled, internationally and domestically. But now, it's back.

My best memory of living in Bogotá was the night Colombia qualified for Brazil. Down 3-0 to Chile at halftime, an epic comeback confirmed their long-awaited return to the World Cup. I likened it to Liverpool in Istanbul, but here's my full account of that night.

Video of celebrations in Bogotá after Colombia qualified for the World Cup.

To feel the Colombian pride and passion that night, even as a gringo transplant, was truly amazing. It's an infectious feeling. One we will capture and share with you throughout our journey through Latin America to Brazil next summer.

So why leave? Because the next three months are vital in terms of pre-production and fundraising for American Fútbol. Work best done stateside, alongside my partners Petar and Sam.  

Of course, I'll miss the Colombian soccer culture most, but there are a host of other things I'll miss as well. Like  the Tamale lady who'd wake me up every Sunday morning with her Tamale! Tamale! Tamaleeeee!!!" shrill.

I'll miss cheap rum, mango cups, and being "tall".

I'll miss the soups. Oh man, the soups. Ajiaco, sancocho, frijolada. I can hardly explain their deliciousness.

I'll also miss the people, their friendliness and their admirable ability to not give a shit. At times infuriating, at others inspiring.

My friends, and the cavernous apartment that clearly once belonged to a moderately successful drug dealer (Who else installs a marble fireplace and a bidet in otherwise modest quarters?), will also be missed.

Oddly, I think I'll miss the busses, or those sardine tins on wheels. I'll miss seeing  people hover over a recently vacated seat waiting for it to cool down for fear of contracting herpes from the heat left by its former occupant.

I will NOT miss the disastrous garbage collection system, Colombian's inability to form lines, and the catcalling. The machismo culture, in general, is gross.

That Bogotá's Backdrop

Of course, Colombia has huge societal and political issues. It's one of the world richest in natural resources, yet poverty is rife. It doesn't equate. But unlike many countries with this problem, they're improving. Every day Colombia's future gets a little brighter.

And in three months, when we stop in Bogotá and Cali for this project, I know it'll be even better. And even harder to leave.

Peter KarlComment